When the Clark rowers dipped their oars into the waters of Fiesta Bay at the San Diego Crew Classic early last month, they were inspired by the presence of a rower who was not there.
Two Clark boats were competing in the Grace Rett Memorial Collegiate Varsity Final, held in honor of Grace Rett, the Holy Cross rower who was killed in a car accident while on a training trip in Florida in 2020.
“Grace’s death hit close to home,” recalls Cate Brown ’22, M.A. ’23, a Clark graduate student. “The Holy Cross team sent us a note when we went on the San Diego trip, and said, ‘Bring this back to Worcester for everyone.’”
And that’s just what they did.
Clark’s Varsity Eight (V8) boat earned first place against Division II, Division III, and club teams, taking home the Grace Rett Memorial Cup by defeating rival crews from Purdue University, Trinity College, and the University of California (Davis and Santa Barbara), among others. The 2V8 boat brought home second place. You can read more race details in an interview with rower Rose Delogu ’23.
The Clark team had dedicated their row to Grace, something the public address announcer acknowledged to everyone on shore. Brown had written “Holy Cross” on her hands, and the team’s pump-up cheer, she says, was changed from “1-2-3 Clark!” to “1-2-3 Cross!”
“We were all crying,” Brown recalls of the post-race emotions overcoming the Clark rowers. “Some Holy Cross rowing alumni were there and gave us our awards. They know Worcester, and they know Clark because our teams practice next to each other on Lake Quinsigamond. It was really touching.
“Honestly, I think it was a lot more emotional than we thought it would be when we went into it,” says Brown, who is pursuing a master’s in environmental science and policy through Clark’s Accelerated Degree Program. “I think it pushed us to succeed.”
Coach Michael McDonald said he’s not surprised at the effort his crew delivered in the San Diego regatta. He’s seen them compete at a high level before, notably when the team finished among the final eight crews in the Henley Royal Regatta in England last year.
“We wouldn’t have made the San Diego trip if we didn’t think we could win it,” McDonald says. “Holy Cross and the whole Worcester rowing community reached out to us and showed their support.”
Now in his 11th year of coaching at Clark, McDonald praises the work ethic and sense of purpose exhibited by his rowing teams, which are largely composed of walk-ons. He’s just as proud of the current team’s performance in the classroom (they boast a cumulative GPA of 3.7) as he is of their performance on the water.
“Rowing itself is not terribly complicated, but the good teams are the ones who are mentally tough,” he says. “Our rowers have the mental fortitude to compete in difficult circumstances.”
The Clark crew is a seasoned one — boasting 12 seniors — and their poise and experience show, he says.
“They are self-motivated and have a lot of confidence. They’re invested in themselves and their sport,” McDonald says. “I’ll miss them when they’re gone, but I can’t wait to see what they’ll go on to do.”
With the loss of the seniors, next year’s team will be considerably younger. But McDonald is always on the lookout for fresh talent.
“You never know who will walk in the door.”